STEM + Mirrors and windows + Summer PD = Impact on K-8 science

Teachers, what did you learn this summer?

Did it involve dissecting the heart of a pig? Did you study ways to make a go kart go faster? Did you trudge through creeks and streams to collect water samples? How about studying solar panels at an electric company? Did you learn what it means to create mirrors and windows for students? Do you know how to STEM-itize?

STEM – science, technology, engineering and math – is nothing new in education, but there are ways of teaching STEM that can open minds to new ideas and realities for students.

The STEM Teacher Quality Initiative, or STEM TQ, is a professional development program offered by Washington University in St. Louis with the purpose of developing “exemplary teachers who can provide quality learning in STEM, leading to enhanced outcomes for K-8 students.”

Five teachers from Confluence Charter Schools are involved in STEM TQ – Debra Bahr, math instructional coach, Aspire Academy; Deborah Bertish, sixth grade math, Confluence Academy-South City; Brandice Huling, Title I, Confluence Academy-Old North; Yelena Juracsik, STEM, Confluence Academy-Old North; and Eric Theby, science, Grand Center Arts Academy. Dr. Sonya Murray, principal at Old North, is the program liaison.

For two weeks in July, they were immersed in training and learning experiences with teachers from across the region. STEM TQ included field trips to Monsanto, World Wide Technology, Castlewood State Park and Boeing. During the school year, they will have monthly professional development with after-school workshops. The year-long program has no cost to Confluence, yet is valued at $3,200 and includes stipends and a laptop computer for participating teachers.

“…teachers are exposed to the new Common Core Standards, science and engineering, and they are able to be the STEM leaders in their respective districts to help connect STEM content to the real world, to STEM careers, and to student culture and student interest,” said Dr. Murray. “They are also able to reflect and collaborate as a team.”


Becoming a better teacher

Bertish sees herself as a lifelong learner. The STEM TQ Initiative appealed to her for personal and professional reasons.

“I want to challenge myself and my students to look at how math is applicable in the real world. Plus, I personally love technology and I know that using technology in the classroom engages my students,” she said.

“After the training, I believe that I can now provide a higher level of learning for my kids, in that I can better engage them in that question they always ask, ‘Why do I need to learn this?’ I can now share with them all of the potential career opportunities in STEM fields, show them how STEM is intertwined in their everyday life and provide more substantial experiences for them when learning about math concepts by helping them make connections to real world problem-solving,” said Bertish.

“I learned that many corporations are looking to fill jobs of the future with highly skilled, diverse applicants. This is why we – educators – must create opportunities for students to see themselves in STEM careers,” said Huling. “I also learned that it’s easy to STEM-itize your current curriculum by using strategies like novel engineering, extension, integration and problem-solving.”

“I received a lot of resources and support during the training,” said Juracsik. “I’m planning on using them in my class, as well as sharing them with other teachers.”


Mirrors and Windows

“STEM TQ was all about giving students the opportunity to see themselves in STEM careers,” explained Huling. “When I dissected and examined a pig’s heart at Saint Louis University’s School of Medicine, I actually experienced creating a mirror for myself. As a result of that single experience, I thought I was capable of studying medicine in some capacity.

“These are the types of experiences we must create for our students so that they feel capable of pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering and math.”

Bahr agrees.

“I would like to see every teacher use the mirror and window concept. Mirrors are stories that reflect your culture and reality and help you understand yourself. Windows are books, movies, art, etc. that offer you a view into someone else’s experience,” she explained.